The road-rage lobby couldn't have been more wrong. Organisations such as the Association of British Drivers or Safe Speed - the boy racers' club masquerading as a road-safety campaign - have spent years claiming that speeding doesn't cause accidents. Safe Speed, with the help of some of the most convoluted arguments I've ever read, even seeks to prove that speed cameras "make our roads more dangerous". Other groups, such as Motorists Against Detection (officially known as Mad), have been toppling, burning and blowing up the hated cameras. These and about a thousand such campaigns maintain that speed limits, speed traps and the government's "war on the motorist" are shakedown operations whose sole purpose is to extract as much money as possible from the poor oppressed driver.
Well last week the Department for Transport published the results of the study it had commissioned into the efficacy of its speed cameras. It found that the number of drivers speeding down the roads where fixed cameras had been installed fell by 70%, and the number exceeding the speed limit by more than 15mph dropped by 91%. As a result, 42% fewer people were killed or seriously injured in those places than were killed or injured on the same stretches before the cameras were erected. The number of deaths fell by more than 100 a year. The people blowing up speed cameras have blood on their hands.
But this is not, or not really, an article about speed, or cameras, or even cars. It is about the rise of the antisocial bastards who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences. I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation that recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people's actions. We drive on the left in Britain, but we are being driven to the right.
It is not just because of his celebration of everything brash and flash that Jeremy Clarkson has become the boy racer's hero. He articulates, with a certain wit and with less equivocation than any other writer in this country, the doctrine that he should be permitted to swing his fist - whoever's nose is in the way. For years he has championed the unrestrained freedom of the road. He takes it so far that from time to time he appears to incite his disciples to vandalise and even kill.
"If the only way of getting their [the government's] attention," he told the readers of the Sun in 2002, "is to destroy the tools that pay for their junkets and their new wallpaper, then so be it. I wish the people from Mad all the very best." In February this year, he suggested that speed cameras might be "filled ... with insulating foam that sets rock hard". After the London bombings in July, he observed that "many commuters are now switching to bicycles ... can I offer five handy hints to those setting out on a bike for the first time. 1. Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I'm coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun. 2. Do not pull up at junctions in front of a line of traffic. Because if I'm behind you, I will set off at normal speed and you will be crushed under my wheels ... "
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